NEW YORK — Richard Bradley ’86 had a feeling that the underlying tension between Harvard President Lawrence Summers and the university’s faculty would come to a head.
“I knew at some point this faculty was going to explode because there is such hostility to Larry Summers,” Bradley says. “Part of the faculty wants to reject Larry Summers like a splinter.”
It now seems that Bradley, whose recently released book, “Harvard Rules: The Struggle for the Soul of the World’s Most Powerful University,” a brutal critique of Summers’s first three years on the job, was right on the money.
With a potential vote of no confidence looming in the future, Summers spoke to 500 Harvard faculty members at an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon which came on the heels of the controversy over Summers’ recent comments on women scientists. But Summers’ quiet and conciliatory stance at the meeting — he said he was just there to listen to the faculty’s concerns — is a far cry from the pugnacious leadership that Bradley describes in his book.
And with a recent article published in The New York Times on his book, Bradley could not have asked for a better confluence of events to propel his expose of Summers into the national spotlight. Standing at the counter of a Cosi Cafe on the corner of 76th and Broadway, Bradley, with a black tweed peacoat and groomed dirty blonde coif, looks odd for someone who spent the last year ridiculing an elitist in power. His resume, which includes Groton School, a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s degree from Harvard, does not fit his muckraking profile, either.
But Bradley has been interested in the Harvard presidency and the politics of power since his days as an executive editor at The New Journal, when he co-wrote a profile of then-Harvard president, Derek Bok. Bradley describes Bok as “a fascinating guy who combined an English scholar’s love of English with a political scientist’s understanding of power and how you wield it.”
However, as the ironic “Harvard Rules” book title conveys, the Harvard presidency has changed since Bradley’s days as a Bulldog.
“It frustrates me how people assume that the presidency and the university are the same thing,” Bradley says. “It’s a modern phenomenon. Not too long ago the president was basically an outgrowth of the faculty. Now you find a president who is in opposition to the faculty.”
Bradley highlights passages in his book that he likes, pointing to particularly prescient sections that foreshadowed Summers’ current troubles.
“My book is tough on Summers, but he’s a powerful guy,” Bradley said. “And as tough as the book is on him, it doesn’t compare with how he treats some members of his faculty … Part of the tension [comes from the belief] that he really does not look out for or represent Harvard, and that he makes decisions based on what’s good for him and not what’s in Harvard’s best interest.”
In his book, Bradley sheds new light on the problems facing Summers’ administration, including his wavering stance on affirmative action and his heated interactions with renowned Afro-American Studies professors Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West. Bradley writes that West left for Princeton after Summers intentionally planted a rumor in the New York media that West had been accused of sexual harassment.
Summers’ spokeswoman did not return the News’ requests for comment.
For his searing critique of Summers, Bradley said he has received positive reviews from Harvard faculty members.
“I’ve gotten e-mails from professors I didn’t even interview, saying, ‘You got it right. This is the way things are here,'” Bradley says, smiling.
The satisfaction of working hard on a story that insiders celebrate is new for Bradley. His first book, bestseller “American Son,” an explicitly unauthorized biography of his friend and boss of four years at George Magazine, John F. Kennedy, Jr., capitalized on the public’s appetite for the handsome Camelot celebrity. But some colleagues at George were not so enamored of the book, especially since Bradley had violated a written agreement that he had signed before Kennedy’s death stating that he would not write about the Kennedys. Rumors swirled in the New York media that Bradley was gay and had feelings for Kennedy and that he was writing the book because he could not find a job.
Bradley laughs off both suppositions.
“It’s a good experience for journalists to be written about,” Bradley contends. “You read it and think, ‘That’s not me, I’m not that person.’ And really the only thing you can do about it is to become a better journalist and be aware that words sting.”
He sharpens his tone to defend his decision to write about Kennedy.
“People who didn’t know [Kennedy] well — who didn’t see him in a public environment — didn’t realize how much he often liked to be in the press,” Bradley asserts. “If you had said to John that he had a choice between his life or living in a cabin in the woods, there is no question he liked the life he had. I was and will always remain a very loyal friend of John’s, but I’m also a journalist with a unique perspective on one of the world’s most public figures.”
Bradley’s pain over the loss of his friend shows in his tight lips and sullen expression as he stares at the table between us. He describes the struggle that he endured after Kennedy’s death, which came in July 1999, only six weeks after Bradley’s own fiancee left him.
“Trying to keep my life together while running George was extremely difficult,” Bradley says. “Our offices were next to each other. I went through everyday hearing John through the wall and then suddenly that voice was just gone.”
Two of Bradley’s former colleagues who were interviewed for this article used the words “hardworking” and “thoughtful” to describe him. One, who declined to be named, said the celebrity world surrounding George magazine brought out the worst in Bradley.
But Bradley, who developed a thick skin for criticism after the controversy, has moved past the struggles he encountered with “American Son” to promote a book that has earned applause from some at one of the world’s best universities.
“Talking about the book is almost like a full time job,” Bradley says. “We’ve really had good luck with timing.”